Being cool on the internet is like attempting a sweet-ass Pinterest recipe:
Mix one cup retweeted memes and one-third cup effortless selfies. Add one tablespoon of self-deprecation for every teaspoon of self-promotion; stir counterclockwise for three minutes. Melt one stick of mutual followers and fold it in. Bake at 375 degrees for seventeen minutes; remove when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean of Harambe references. Drizzle topical political jokes on top and garnish with petty subtweets.
Oh, wait, you did the tablespoon-to-teaspoon math wrong? Now your sweet-ass Pinterest cake has fallen in the middle and you’ve lost 50 Instagram followers.
With such precision often yielding such a fruitless outcome, it’s no wonder millennials are depressed. Never mind that, though—here’s a brief but definitive guide to being cool on the internet.
Photos in sunglasses that flatter your face shape = cool.
Listening to Chance the Rapper on Spotify = cool.
Posting half-nudes with your art-hoe tattoos on your finsta = cool.
Joking about your insecurities using the current hottest meme = cool.
Calling Hillary Clinton/Kellyanne Conway/other women in politics ugly c*nts = SO NOT COOL.
You might think it’s funny to call the woman you disagree with a fat ass fucking dumb ass dyke bitch and tell her to suck your fat dick, but calling powerful women fat ass fucking dumb ass dyke bitches is not a victimless crime.
(And yeah, I didn’t make this up.)
It might seem harmless—after all, Hillary Clinton or Theresa May or Nikki Haley or Elizabeth Warren are too busy, like, creating public policy to ever see your angry tweet—but when women in politics (and all women in the public sphere, for that matter) receive thousands upon thousands of tweets calling them fat ass fucking dumb ass dyke bitches per day, the internet becomes an even more toxic cesspool for the rest of us. Using this kind of gendered attack on social media perpetuates sexism proliferated in the traditional media, and while we don’t know a lot about sexism on social media, we do know that sexism in traditional media hurts women, whether they’re running for office or just considering it.
We know that coverage of women candidates in traditional media is more likely to focus on their appearance and marital status than coverage of men candidates, and that their coverage is also more likely to focus on their personality over their policy positions. We know that employing gendered stereotypes in traditional media discredits women candidates and questions their viability. We know that “women candidates and their campaign staffs need to decide to attack sexism and to attack it early and consistently.”
And what I think scholars will begin observing is that, on social media, the same patterns arise, but sexist messages on social media are even more egregious. Sexism on social media might inspire serious long-term consequences into the way women present themselves in public and in politics.
After media critic Anita Sarkeesian received rape and death threats, including a message threatening a mass shooting at her speaking event, she canceled her visit. After a troll told Jessica Valenti they’d rape and kill her five-year-old daughter, the feminist writer quit Twitter. And these are just the most high-profile cases: online gendered harassment is concerningly common.
The problem is particularly pressing for young women, and drawing from my extensive experience as a young woman, it is a fucking problem. Young women are more susceptible to doxxing, sexual harassment, cyberstalking, and in-person attacks than men or older women; 26 percent of women aged 18 to 24 have been stalked online. Women are more likely to self-censor, or even quit social media, in order to avoid further harassment.
How is this going to affect women’s places in high positions? When a teenage girl finds herself the target of gendered harassment on social media, when her friends are likely to experience the same sexism simply for expressing an opinion, when her media environment contains countless instances of powerful women being reduced to their fugly cankles, will she want to pursue the kind of position in which women are already severely underrepresented?
In my research into sexism directed at Hillary Clinton and Theresa May on Twitter while the two women candidates ran for executive office, I identified six different types of sexism. Peter Glick and Susan Fiske establish two broad categories of sexism in their Ambivalent Sexism Inventory: hostile and benevolent sexism.
Benevolent sexism is a little sneaky. It’s implying that men are simply more capable of running a country because “women are so emotionally adept!” It’s a religious leader telling me I won’t be a doctor because I’ll love being a wife so much. According to Elena Lemonaki, Antony S. R. Manstead, and Gregory R. Maio, benevolent sexism incentivizes women to cooperatively remain in traditional roles and “justifies men’s privileged position in the social hierarchy, but does so by highlighting women’s superiority in socio-emotional warmth and thereby implying a lack of competence.”
Hostile is the more obvious of the two. It’s “go make me a sandwich, bitch.” It’s “shut up, you stupid c*nt.” (If you’ve noticed, I hate that word so much I have to put a star in it.) It’s the kind of sexism that most decent people with an understanding of appropriate language would look at and be like, “not cool, dude.”According to Lemonaki, Manstead, and Maio, “hostile sexism serves to justify men’s higher status and power by asserting their superior competence” and “deters women from seeking higher status roles.”
Hostile and benevolent sexism can be divided into more specific categories, and that’s what I did while looking at tweets directed at Clinton and May. The three types of hostile sexism are outlined above; I found that the third type, heterosexual hostility, was by far the most frequent and the most nasty. Twitter users told May she didn’t have children because she was such a “frigid c*nt.” They told Clinton her daughter was ugly, that she couldn’t keep a country in line when she couldn’t keep her husband in line, that her womanly impulses would start a war.
This is what women running for office face on social media. They face not just criticism, not just attacks on their policies or even their personalities. Women running for and serving in office encounter a barrage of undeniably sexist messages every day, messages that tell them they are ugly or sexy, that tell them they should be raped, that tell them they are neglecting their families. Just take a look at this Twitter advanced search and try not to feel physically ill.
It’s my firm belief, having studied this topic and scrolled through THOUSANDS of disgustingly obscene tweets like those above, that the ease and instantaneity of platform provided by social media not only enables and indirectly encourages sexism, but that this sexism will have an observable impact on women running for office. That’s right: a bunch of internet trolls hiding behind their gaming computer screens could negatively influence women’s representation in government. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge the political clout of the neckbeard.
Last updated: February 28, 2017, 12:48 PM by Madison Shumway